Trying to avoid a subconscious but intolerably terrifying experience of ‘Annihilation’ is the root incentive for the development of the Substitute Sense of Self-oriented System. It is the fear of – although being bodily present – not being ‘visible’ as a Being, to others. It feels like ‘I am unable to participate in life because it looks like nobody sees or hears me’.

Describing this fear makes it seem less of a big deal than it is when you have no idea what is going on – when all you are aware of is just an uncanny terrifying sensation that ‘something is off’. The moment you have seen the face of your enemy – by putting the terror into words – you at least know where to aim in conquering it.

The experience of ‘Annihilation’ includes a (mostly subconscious) strong perception of not being seen and heard as a ‘present’ person and not having any real ability to affect one’s environment. The person is not having their own nature and needs taken into account by others, which comes down to not being acknowledged by others as an independent, potentially autonomous human being. This treatment gets interpreted by the person as: ‘I am overlooked because I am not important enough to be noticed’.  That interpretation results in feeling like ‘a ghost’ with a body – bodily alive but in the living hell of being ‘invisible’ to everyone. ‘I am not real. I have no real empowerment.’

In order to get a sense of ‘being seen and heard, being visible for others’ there is a deeply-held sense of having to perform in a certain way, living up to specific (subconsciously self-imposed but based on the Early Childhood Survival Strategy) conditions, called Ego-References

‘Annihilation’ as used in this Theory differs from Death in many ways

The word ‘Annihilation’ is chosen here even though it has a somewhat different connotation from the common use of it: human extinction, mutual destruction (Wikipedia). The overlap in meaning is that there is a perception of being destroyed, reduced to zero, due to not being seen, heard and taken into account. It means that it feels as if one doesn’t exist.

The experience is not precisely of existing and then not existing because of dying. That is experienced deep down by our bodies and psyches as ‘natural.’  The ultimate terror and horror of ‘Annihilation’ arises from the profound gut-level realization that the experience is unnatural, not ‘right’, not a normal part of Life.

This theory speaks of ‘annihilation’ rather than ‘death’ or ‘nonexistence’ for two other reasons. One, because there are certain fundamental senses of Self (see Layers of Self) which will develop or exist in any kind of childhood emotional environment no matter how starved for acknowledgment the child is.

Second – and this is all explained more fully below – because whatever sense of ‘selfhood‘ the child’s subconscious manages to achieve is always disappearing along with the [pop-feel-good-about-oneself text=”good vibes”] that (unhealthy) sense of self depends on. Annihilation is a constant threat and a constant reality, and fear of that, the attempt to prevent that annihilation, becomes a dominant motive in life.

‘By comparison, death is benign*’ you could say. The physical body dies only once. Annihilation, as described here, ‘happens’ to some unfortunate children, over and over again. The usually subconscious sense of not-existing is intolerably terrifyingly experienced even more consciously, if the person does nothing to avoid it. This is the seed for later-in-life compulsions and addictions, and for the ‘force of Nature’ strength of the Black Hole and the person’s Indirect Motivation and profound drive to gain and keep the approval which allows the emotional ‘high’ of Feel Good About Self

It also explains why rage, sometimes murderous rage, can result when that drive is thwarted. Just try to imagine what is at stake in fulfilling the person’s goal!

* I feel the need to clarify that this statement is there only for the use of adding to the notion of how powerful the Substitute Sense of Self-motivation is and by no means to belittle any experience of death in the reality of life.

How Annihilation arises as an issue in life

My hunch is that in infancy, being noticed by others, in the sense of making a difference in someone’s life (positive or negative) contributes to the development of a healthy Natural Sense of Self in a child. This sense of being a ‘self’ because one is regarded as an independent self by another, is the opposite of the experience of Annihilation.

If, however, an infant’s primary caregiver fails to reflect ‘I see you as a Being independent of me, not a means to my own needs and desires’ to the infant, then a seed is planted for deviation in the development of Sense of Self of the child.  Nature has programmed the human infant to try to compensate for this pre-verbal, subconscious, terrifying, and intolerable experience of annihilation.

The compensation takes place – all pre-verbally and subconsciously – as the infant begins observing the caregiver, deducing what behavior to display (in a later stage that develops into Ego-References) in order to get something approximating being ‘seen’ as ‘real’.

That approximation comes via getting approval, or ‘positive vibes,’ from the emotions of the primary caregiver. That approximation is experienced as ‘I feel good about who I am’.  This is not a healthy ‘I AM‘, so the Annihilation is actually still there, but muted, covered up, by at least feeling positive vibes from another person (the caregiver/parent) even if the healthy ‘I see you as a real person’ is still not forthcoming.

‘I must display this behavior’ as an observation done in early childhood becomes ‘there are conditions and requirements of my primary caretaker which I must fulfill or achieve’ later in life.  Successfully fulfilling the conditions perceived as required by the primary caretaker brings to the child a sort of (but not natural and not healthy) ‘Sense of Self’ experienced via the emotion of ‘feel-good-about-Self’.

This relatively positive emotion becomes the key compensation in avoiding the experience of Annihilation. It becomes what this theory regards as an unhealthy, unnatural surrogate structure of ‘Selfhood.’

Annihilation always lurks

That Substitute Sense of Self, however, always goes in and out of existence as approval is being experienced or not. Therefore, the compensation is unhealthy partly because it doesn’t work. Annihilation continues to loom as an experience because of the constant disappearance of the Substitute Sense of Self when approval is not present at the moment.

Therefore the person is haunted by a continuous fear of Annihilation, or said differently: The person continuously pains herself (subconsciously) wondering ‘what do I need to do next to avoid my Substitute Sense of Self going out of existence?’ ‘What if I can’t function as I so desperately need to function?’ is a continuous background for the person. It generates many a pathological symptom (insomnia, migraine).

The toll it takes over time

Although initially coming from a reality-based sense of being overlooked (as a toddler/child), later in life, Fear of Annihilation can be seen as fear of the loss of the emotional ‘high’ of ‘feeling-good-about-self’ which is the Substitute Sense of Self. The dreaded annihilation is then one step removed from ‘being unseen;’ instead it is the dreaded disappearance of the Substitute Sense of Self, which would be experienced as the equivalent of ‘not being visible, seen and heard’. This is a subtle but crucially important shift, and explains the extremely compulsive and addictive nature of what the person has to go through (successfully fulfilling the Ego-References) to get to the SubSoS. If your lifeboat is going to save you from drowning, then loss of your lifeboat is just as frightening as drowning would be!!

So you can see in this process that while there isn’t a destruction of the bodily presence of the person, eventually there is inevitably a near-extinction of a person’s spirit and psyche, because the person is always conforming to something external, never free to know and express their real nature; their real potential ‘self’ never develops.

In compensation mode, ‘feeling present’ becomes a ‘conditional’ matter: The child develops any subconscious sense of ‘being in existence’ can possibly disappear or be attacked, (annihilating them) in such an early-childhood interpersonal environment. The young child has a continuous, unremitting, unrelenting, inescapable sense ‘going in and out of existence’ as a Being, depending on conditions to be fulfilled.

Thus, you can perhaps see more clearly now why, as described earlier, Annihilation is almost more fearful than Death, and why all the unhealthy motives this Theory describes are experienced as Forces of Nature, making Recovery a real challenge.

Where the reader goes next….